Wendell Scott Raced Into History 46 Years Ago

Patti RodischAnalyst IDecember 3, 2009

In a NASCAR season, one race is just a snap shot of a season. In NASCAR's storied history, fans have watched thousands of races and seen hundreds of winners. Only this one winner is about one driver, who for a moment in time he was on top of the world.

For NASCAR driver Wendell Scott, 46 years ago on December 1, 1963 he won his first NASCAR race and his only.

The significance of this seems small to some today, but back then being an African American, it was a monumental moment in motorsports history.

Like in every race, there are storylines and Scott story goes much deeper. This story was rooted in a south festering with racial tensions and anger. In a time when African Americans were marching and fighting, Scott was racing.

Scott began racing in 1947 on local tracks in Virginia. Scott raced his way up eventually racing in the then Grand National Series (Now NASCAR Sprint Cup Series). In 1961 he bought a Chevrolet from Buck Baker and began his racing career in the GNS.

There were multiple times when due to lack of funds his racing career could have been over. In 1963 he bought a car from Ned Jarrett and ended up finishing 15th in the points.

Scott was not only racing with this sports biggest and best, he was beating them.

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After winning the race by over two laps over Baker, officials claimed Baker won the race, they awarded him the trophy, and Scott was awarded the prize money. Scott was angry.

According to Legends of NASCAR, it was later admitted that NASCAR feared the backlash of an African American kissing the beauty queen, in front of an all white crowd.

Scott’s son, Franklin, recalled the story years later.

"My dad went off then," Scott said. "He said, 'Give me my damn money.' Buck got the real trophy. The thing we got was junk. They gave us a trophy about a month later at Savannah. But it wasn't the real thing."

"The opportunity for a black man to race just wasn't there. He overcame many hurdles and he never let it faze him to the point where it made him hostile. I don't know how he was able to do that. It was difficult for me when I would see a lot of the things I wouldn't understand why my daddy didn't put them in the wall. I thought he was afraid. He wasn't afraid...he was thinking about the next race."

The incident stayed with Scott. Every driver cannot wait to get to victory circle, to bask in the victory. That was taken away from Scott and he never went on to win again. His career was cut short after a life threatening accident at Talladega in 1973.

Scott finished his career with 147 top 10 finishes and 20 top five finishes in 495 races.

Scott passed away at 60 years old in 1990. He saw the best and the worse in this sport. He changed the landscape for other African American drivers.

Other drivers who may not have found the success that Scott earned but they are able to race not in fact of but because of Scott.

Forty-six years have passed and while our culture has changed and NASCAR has changed. We are still waiting for another African American or women to continue the legacy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Next May the NASCAR Hall of Fame will open and five very deserving members will be inducted. They represent different decades and periods in this sports history.

All of them are a foot print in NASCAR history and helped build, promote and improve the sport.

Scott is a part of that history; in fact his story is intertwined with every minority driver racing in any series.

His story is in the hopes and dreams and aspirations of every racer and of this writer. Who dreams of covering a sport that at one time was afraid of the backlash of an African American winning a race.

Now it is a sport that has not only changed with the culture around it, but has embraced and promoted diversity.

That being said there is still work to be done.

There was little to no mention of Scott on December 1 in the NASCAR community. This milestone deserves more than side note or a mention on social media sites. It deserves more than a quick mention.

Hopefully Scott will soon be inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame. Not because he won a race, but because he was racing when they were rioting, he was standing up when everyone told him to sit down.

Special thanks to Legends of NASCAR for the background information, quotes and the photo.